On taking care

TD 3rd april 134


‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’   George Elliot

I exit the conference and walk out into the warm sunlit afternoon of a London square. In among the plane trees and the lunchtime picnickers I find myself wandering about in the company of Joan, Cedric, Elsie and Jessie: all people who had become woven into the fabric of Entelechy; all people who have died this year.

‘What will remain of us is love’ said Larkin. Trace elements of this remembering seep into my unconsciousness, surfacing at times when I least expect.

If you work in the company of the old, then I guess it is inevitable that at some stage you will be working with loss and death and uncertainty. You will be journeying alongside the seemingly impenetrable complexities that some people face (both physically and emotionally) in just moving from one week into the next. Waiting for the results of hospital tests, worrying about loss of memory, moving about with constant pain, living with the enduring absence of someone who you will love for ever. This is the emotional landscape within which we work, the landscape from which we emerge humanly together attempting to find meaning and joy and possibility:  through gossip and story, song, gesture, dance, created artefacts, poems. The tools that we have been using to make sense of things since the beginning of time.

Within our work at Entelechy (and our love child, Meet Me), our lives are continually enriched by intimate public encounters with so many people. It’s a relational practice (to use the jargon) We develop relationships, we build trust, we create art together. Sometimes building intricately woven performances that subvert form and establish new ways of being together. Sometimes creating guerrilla forays into the street or re-occupying public space; sometimes just uncovering tiny fragile transitory and extraordinary exchanges infused with beauty and risk.

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And of course the key ingredient of all of this is imagination. A shared imagination that allows us to collectively respond the that nagging question: “What will become of us?” with possibility and hope.

This is a process that shakes up the social and the aesthetic to produce an underlying cocktail of care, that in our contexts often serves to become a propagating bed for the production of new works of art. Intuitively we find ourselves working with the underlying principles of attentiveness, responsibility, competence, responsiveness, trust. It is no coincidence that these ingredients have been identified as a set of values or moral principles that form an integrity of care[1]

How do we care for each other? It seems unnatural to continually move through this shifting and concentrated landscape of vulnerability and fragility. Although set within secure safeguarding frameworks, supported by a forensic attention to detail and attention to risk, the boundaries of identity become blurred. I doubt if our subconscious selves recognise the distinctions of artist, manager, volunteer, older participant.

Maybe its something to do with kindness. In the last few often quite difficult months at Meet Me at the Albany I have witnessed so many small acts of human kindness. The card that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, a touch, a smile.  In their slim volume ‘On Kindness’ Phillips & Taylor reflect:

‘Kindness…complicates one’s relations with others in peculiarly subtle and satisfying ways; and for a very simple reason. Acts of kindness demonstrate, in the clearest possible way, that we are vulnerable and dependent animals who have no better resource than each other’

Of course we haven’t got it right yet. Perhaps we never will. But we are starting to seek out times and spaces: to reflect, to remember, to question: walks, meals, shared silences. It’s the beginning of another journey…

[1] Tronto, J (2010) ‘Creating caring institutions: Politics, plurality and purpose’

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